Monday, April 11, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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Talking Peace, Making War

Signs Economic Commentary
Donald Hunt
April 11, 2005

The euro closed at 1.2928 dollars on Friday, up 0.18% from the previous week's close of 1.2904. The dollar then fell to .7735 euros from the previous week's .7750. The ten-year U.S. Treasury bond closed at 4.47% compared to 4.45% the previous Friday. Gold closed at $429.00 an ounce, virtually unchanged from last week's $428.80. Gold in euros, then, would be 331.84 euros an ounce, down 0.14% compared to the previous week's 332.30. Oil closed at 53.32 dollars a barrel down 7.4% from the previous week's close of $57.27. Oil in euros would be 41.24 euros a barrel. An ounce of gold on Friday would buy 8.05 barrels of oil, up 7.4% from the previous Friday's price of 7.49 barrels an ounce. The Dow closed at 10,468.44 up 0.61% from the previous week's 10,404.30. The NASDAQ closed at 2000.63, up 0.8% from the previous week's 1984.81.

There are increasing signs that the housing bubble in the United States is about to burst. One sign is stagnating rents with still-rising housing prices. See this article from CNN:

Why rent matters

Rental prices hint at whether a housing market is riding on fundamentals or speculation.

By Sarah Max, CNN/Money senior writer
April 7, 2005: 1:17 PM EDT

SALEM, Ore. – If home prices in your area are riding high and you're wondering whether it's because of dangerous speculation or a reasonable increase in demand, turn to the rental market.

In most markets, rentals prices have not risen anywhere near as fast as home prices, and in many, markets rents have fallen or remained flat.

Nationally, owning costs 7 percent more each month than renting, according to Torto Wheaton Research. The gap isn't huge but it is the widest it's been in more than a decade.

In a balanced market, say economists, the cost of renting should closely track the cost of owning. When the cost of owning is dramatically higher than the cost of renting similar property, you can guess that buyers are speculating on higher home prices.

This relationship is similar to the price-to-earnings ratio used to evaluate company stocks, said Gleb Nechayev, a senior economist with Torto Wheaton Research. In real estate, this ratio is determined by dividing the price of a house by the annual rent it could bring in given the current market.

"In some places ratios are clearly out of their historical bounds signaling slower growth in home price as interest rates rise," said Nechayev. Renting is generally more affordable than owning, he said, but the degree to which renting is more affordable in some markets "does make one wonder what's driving home prices and whether there is some speculation."

In Las Vegas and San Francisco, monthly mortgage costs on the median-priced home is nearly twice the monthly cost of renting the typical two-bedroom apartment -- and that's assuming buyers have a 20-percent down payment and finance with an interest-only loan.

In Southern California, the gap between owning and renting is also substantial, though rents there have been rising at a healthy pace.

In Atlanta and Dallas, on the other hand, it may actually cost less to own than to rent.

Add to this a slowing economy, even under the best-case projections of mainstream economists in the mainstream media, and it's hard to imagine that there won't be a crash in real estate. As for the slowing economy, see this article from Bloomberg:

Economists Lower Second-Half U.S. Growth Forecasts, Survey Says

April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Rising energy prices and higher interest rates will take a larger bite out of consumer spending and cause the U.S. economy to slow later this year, a Bloomberg News survey of economists found.

The economy is projected to expand at an average 3.5 percent annual pace from July through December after growing an estimated 3.9 percent in the first six months, according to the median of 62 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News from April 1 to April 7. Economists last month forecast growth for the second half of 2005 at almost 3.7 percent.

"It's more a return to moderation than an outright collapse," said Gina Martin, an economist at Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina. Economists at Wachovia project the economy will grow 3.4 percent in the last six months of the year after expanding 4.1 percent from January through June.

Record gasoline prices will siphon cash from consumers' pockets that could otherwise be spent on other goods and services, economists said. Higher fuel costs are stoking inflation and will prompt Federal Reserve policy makers to raise their interest-rate target more than previously thought, the survey also showed.

Central bankers will raise the target for the benchmark overnight bank lending rate, currently at 2.75 percent, to 3.75 percent by the end of the third quarter and it will finish the year at 4 percent, according to the survey median. Both estimates are a quarter percentage point higher than last month. The forecast for the end of this quarter held at 3.25 percent.

Federal Reserve

The Fed's rate increases are expected to lead to higher rates on mortgages and other consumer loans. The increased costs will further restrain refinancing and keep homeowners from tapping into home equity to boost spending. Refinancing helped sustain consumer purchases as the economy was recovering from the last recession.

"Housing, which is the most interest-sensitive part of the economy and has been incredibly strong, should eventually start cooling," said James O'Sullivan, a senior economist at UBS Securities LLC in New York. "The single biggest change in the economy later this year will be the turnaround in housing."

Consumer prices will rise 2.5 percent this year, compared to last month's 2.3 percent estimate, the survey showed.

"The risks to inflation seem all aligned on the upside," said Joseph Abate, a senior economist at Lehman Brothers Inc. in New York.

"This upcreep in inflation makes the Fed increasingly intolerant of above-trend economic growth."
Gasoline Prices

The average price for a gallon of gasoline at the pump rose to a record $2.26 in the week ended April 4, according to figures from the Energy Department. Gasoline has tracked a rally in crude oil, which accounts for about half the retail fuel price. Crude oil prices in New York surged to $58.28 on April 4, the highest since the contract was introduced in 1983.

Retail gasoline prices, based on a monthly average, may peak at $2.35 a gallon in May, the Energy Department said yesterday in an annual forecast. It's up from $2.10 estimated last month for the peak driving season, which runs from April through September.

Inflation is apparent "in many, many commodities," James Tisch, chief executive of New York-based Loews Corp., an owner of insurance, tobacco and energy businesses, said in an interview April 6.

"At some point in time that's going to push its way through from producer prices to consumer prices," Tisch said. "My guess is that will happen starting in the second half of the year, and then that will give the bond markets and the Fed some real cause for concern."

Spending Forecast

The high cost of gasoline is already dampening consumers' spirits. A weekly index of consumer confidence in the state of the economy fell last week to the lowest since June, according to a survey by ABC News/Washington Post issued two days ago.

After growing at a projected 3.4 percent annual pace in the first three months of 2005, consumer spending is expected to slow to 3.1 percent this quarter and average 3.2 percent in the last six months of the year, the survey showed. In the March survey, economists expected spending to rise 3.3 percent in the last half.

It's hard to see why the facts cited in the article don't point more to a collapse than just the "moderation" mentioned by the Wachovia economist quoted in the article. Notice how they characterize the weakest point now in the U.S. economy: the fact that much of the consumer spending that is keeping the economy afloat comes from borrowing on the paper gains in housing prices. The economists talk about a "cooling" of housing prices. Economists, however, are laboring at a disadvantage when trying to read the signs due to their inability to incorporate non-linear analysis. For a good exposition of this problem by an economist, I recommend Steve Keen's Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences (Zed Books, 2001). See also his web site with supplementary materials. According to Keen:

Virtually every aspect of conventional economic theory is intellectually unsound; virtually every economic policy recommendation is just as likely to do general harm as it is to lead to the general good. Far from holding the intellectual high ground, economics rests on foundations of quicksand. If economics was truly a science, then the dominant school of thought in economics would long ago have disappeared from view. (Keen, p. 4)

According to Keen, the real damage is done when policy makers adopt the recommendations of economists, who recommend policies that tend to make the world fit their impoverished models and that tend to do harm to real economies.

Economists would contend that these changes have made the world a better place, not because economists have actually verified that the changes have been beneficial, but because the changes have made the real world look more like the hypothetical world of the economic textbook. Since, in economic models, the hypothetical pure market performs better than the mixed economy in which we live, economists are confident that economic reform makes the world a better place. Where problems have occurred, economists normally assert that this was because their advice was not followed properly. (Keen, p. 8)

Keen claims that if the standard, neo-classical economic model is self-contradictory, and he argues the contradictions are "extreme and pervasive," then their prescriptions will make things worse:

Thus, the economic conditions imposed to achieve monetary union in Europe could enforce a permanent recession upon Europe, and compromise the ability of its governments to counteract any severe downturn in world economic activity. Trade liberalization could reduce global economic welfare because the rapid opening up of markets could destroy productive capacity. The abolition of price subsidies could retard economic growth by amplifying class conflict in the highly unequal societies of the Third World. Rapid economic change could lead to social breakdown, rather than the development of vibrant market economies. And America's middle class could find its retirement nest-eggs eliminated by the collapse of a wildly speculative stock market.

What if, however, these results are not the accidental results of the misguided applications of faulty theories, but rather are intended? Maybe neo-classical economics is a way of selling these policies to the public and rallying a class of technocrats behind policies whose results they wouldn't otherwise support. The Signs of the Times for April 9th reprinted an article by Mike Whitney laying out exactly why all these so-called "unintended consequences" are actually intended. Here's an excerpt:

The country has been intentionally plundered and will eventually wind up in the hands of its creditors as Bush and his lieutenants planned from the very beginning. Those who don't believe this should note the methodical way that the deficits have been produced at (around) $450 billion per year; a systematic and orderly siphoning off of the nation's future. The value of the dollar and the increasing national debt follow exactly the same (deliberate) downward trajectory.

This same Ponzi scheme has been carried out repeatedly by the IMF and World Bank throughout the world; Argentina being the last dramatic illustration. (Argentina's economic collapse occurred when its trade deficit was running at 4%; right now ours is at an unprecedented 6%.) Bankruptcy is a fairly straight forward way of delivering valuable public assets and resources to collaborative industries, and of annihilating national sovereignty. After a nation is successfully driven to destitution, public policy decisions are made by creditors and not by representatives of the people. (Enter, Paul Wolfowitz)

...The Bush administration is mainly comprised of internationalists. That doesn't mean that they "hate America"; simply that they are committed to bringing America into line with the "new world order" and an economic regime that has been approved by corporate and financial elites alike. Their patriotism extends no further than the garish tri-colored flag on their lapel. The catastrophe that middle class Americans face is what these elites breezily refer to as "shock therapy"; a sudden jolt, followed by fundamental changes to the system. In the near future we can expect tax reform, fiscal discipline, deregulation, free capital flows, lowered tariffs, reduced public services, and privatization. In other words, a society entirely designed to service the needs of corporations.

The idea is not to have a "vibrant market economy" or to serve the general good. The goal is to consolidate ALL wealth in a very few, loyal hands. The corporations are just a means to that end. This is one of the things the Bush family has been doing for a long time. Al Martin shows how it is done:

How Government Debt Consolidates Wealth and Power... Particularly if you're a rich Republican.

(Apr 4) - On January 20, 1981, the day that the Reagan-Bush regime came to power, the aggregate national debt stood at $1.54 trillion–approximately on that date, $3,786 per capita.

When the subsequent Bush-Quayle regime left office, on January 20, 1993, aggregate debt stood at approximately $14.3 trillion, or approximately $43,570 per capita.

What is interesting to note, however, is that on the day the Reagan-Bush regime came to power, the top 1% of the nation being approximately 3/4 Republican, owned 37% of all of the private wealth in the nation. On that day that the subsequent Bush-Quayle regime left office, said top 1%, still being approximately 75% Republican, as the fraction has been for a hundred years, owned no longer 37% but, indeed, now owned 57% of all of the private wealth in the nation.

There is a direct effect between the issuance of massive amounts of government debt and how it relates to and, indeed, is a key component of the Bushonian agenda, to use the words of George Bush Senior, of the continuous consolidation of power and money into ever higher, tighter and 'righter' hands; namely, that when government debt is used as it was, particularly from 1984 to 1992, to pay for an endless series of disproportionate tax cuts wherein the bulk of the value of those tax cuts inured to citizens earning more than $200,000 a year, that that debt is essentially paying for the transfer of wealth, a phenomenon that we are once again seeing under the Bush-Cheney regime.

...Where are we in the present in this cycle? We start with this Bush Cheney regime. When this regime came into office, January 20, 2001, at that time, in that month, actually, the top 1% of the people owned 61.9% of all of the private assets in the United States.

As of January 2005, said top 1% of the people of the United States now own 70% of all of the private wealth of the nation. This is a record concentration of wealth in the United States, never seen before in the history of the Republic. For those who are followers of the Malthusian theorem, we know that the 70% wealth-concentration number is also historically significant and has been so for thousands of years.

Where are we in this cycle? We are in a place wherein the Bush-Cheney regime, which has also proffered a series of multi-trillion-dollar disproportionate tax cuts wherein more than 2/3 of the value of those tax cuts has inured to those citizens earning $200,000 a year or more. Indeed less than 1/4 of the value of those tax cuts has inured to those citizens earning less than $100,000 a year. That's why these tax cuts, which are sold to the public under the concept that tax cuts are supposed to be economically stimulative, have not been stimulative because they haven't stimulated consumption.

Real wages are falling and consumer installment debt at $2.25 trillion has doubled under this regime to already a record. Furthermore, the national savings rate, which was 6.9% when the regime came into office, is now a negative number.

The only reason consumption has been maintained is through ever-increasing use of credit. But we now see that there is no more credit to use, in other words. And with falling real wages, you can't expand consumption. Furthermore, the regime cannot now proffer any further tax cuts, simply because of enormous budget deficits, which are actually going to exceed $600 billion on a so-called 'real' basis in 2005.

...Now, that is a great Republican mantra -- you start out in life and you work hard, you build up a little stake and you see an opportunity, you know it's the right thing to do, you seize on it, and you ride the winner. As you know, that's a great Republican mantra.

But the practicality of it is different, if you look at wealth in Washington, the great Republican wealth, including the Bushes. Yes, there was a generation, three generations back, that didn't start out with much. But how is that wealth continually perpetuated? Is it perpetuated through hard work or knowledge of the markets? No. It's perpetuated through an endless series of insider transactions that are essentially guaranteed deals -- and the legislative impact of benefits, those with ever larger amounts of wealth.

Most of the fortune that the Bushes have today wasn't built on oil that came out of the ground. It was built on insider transactions within oil companies. It had nothing to do with producing any oil. The money isn't taking oil out of the ground. It's all financial manipulation and legerdemain.

The biggest money that was ever made by Harken Energy wasn't the oil they took out of the ground. As a matter of fact, most of their leases, most of their production was losing money. As an operating company, they lost money for year after year after year. That isn't the reason why anyone, so saying, with Harken made money.

The reason why Harken became a wealth-builder is through pump-and-dump deals. The greatest wealth-builder of all isn't the great Republican mantra, which is what you hear Larry Kudlow saying: "Well, if you bought this stock 20, 30, 100 years ago… Wise and sound and prudent management."

Nonsense! It wasn't wise and sound and prudent management that made the officers, principals and directors their money. It wasn't what made those who traded the stock the money. It was the pump-and-dump deals that made the money.

People asked me, "How did the Harken stock perform?" And I said, "Oh, it lost money continuously since it's been in business. But it was a great wealth-builder." But you had to be on the inside or have information to know when it was going to be pumped and to know when it was going to be dumped. That's how the wealth is built. It's not what the company does. It's not the dividends they pay.

...The way to look at it is that the Enrons and WorldComs were huge wealth-builders. Look at who was short at the top. Look at who was short Enron in $90. The Bush-Family-controlled Pilgrim Investment Trust, the Cheney-Family-controlled, and equally shadowy DLC Trust. Ken Lay himself was short the stock as it was falling. Henry Kissinger. George Schultz. James Baker.

...What somebody ought to do is to write a series of books of the Bushonian fraud. But how it would have to be– Volume One, Bushonian Banking Fraud. Volume Two, Bushonian Securities Fraud. Volume Three, Bushonian Insurance Fraud. And so on.

The reason why it won't be investigated is that Democrats won't do it. Just like they didn't do it with the Iran-Contra hearings or the Iraqgate hearings or anything like that, because they know that gets around the edges (as my Attorney Marc Sarnoff used to say) of 'The Great Republican Abyss'.

And anyone who has ever gotten around the edges, like I did, and looked over into that Abyss and has seen 'The Way Everything Works And What It's Really All About," hasn't faired so well. You never want to look into that Abyss because in that Abyss is the Ultimate Truth that the United States was purposely designed in the post-war years to continuously concentrate wealth and power.

Unfortunately, I fear the Abyss is deeper than just consolidating all wealth; That may be only the first step.

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Banks, Govt Team Up to Fight Terrorism
By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent
Sun Apr 10,11:21 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In August 2001, U.S. officials were scrambling to hunt down two suspected terrorists who had arrived in the United States. A month later, the two men were among the hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Knowing the names of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi had not been enough. Had officials also known the men had U.S. bank accounts and were using debit cards to pay for hotels, they could have worked with banks' high-tech computer systems to track the pair and maybe avert the attacks.

But back in the summer of 2001, nobody had heard of "financial tracking."

Today, this little-publicized technique, which marries financial systems with nuggets of specific intelligence from the government, is one of the most valuable tools in the fight against terrorism financing, helping to track down militants, watch their moves and thwart attacks, officials and experts say.

The process takes place behind the scenes, and while successes are real, they never make headlines because officials are afraid of endangering sources and methods, both fans and critics of the Bush administration say.

"We miss an awful lot, but there are some really stunning accomplishments by the people who work quietly in the dead of the night," said David Aufhauser, the Treasury's former general counsel who spearheaded the fight against terrorism financing after the 2001 attacks.

Unlike money laundering, which often triggers red flags that banks can detect, financial institutions struggle to spot terrorist financing proactively, without government tip-offs.

But if government officials can provide a specific morsel of hard-won intelligence -- such as dates or transactions -- that goes beyond the names and aliases they routinely provide, banks' computers become a powerful search engine that can help monitor militants' activities, including where they are, what they buy and whom they know. [...]

SILENT SUCCESSES

Several current and former officials, including some critics of the Bush administration, have confirmed successes of financial tracking, but would not give details for fear of damaging ongoing operations.

One current official familiar with the practice said: "The good story out there is entirely classified."

Dennis Lormel, who headed the FBI's anti-terrorist financing efforts after 9-11, said financial tracking had helped law enforcement thwart "numerous" attacks.

In some cases, he said, officials obtained intelligence information about monies being sent to operatives. "We were able to track the money to the operatives," he said, "and they were identified and apprehended before they took any actions." [...]

Also complicating the process are factors such as the need to protect sources, limited software capabilities, and concerns about privacy or civil liberties.

Comment: Life would be so much easier for Bush and the Neocons if they could just do away with those pesky civil liberties!

"There's the whole idea of false positives: What happens to individuals who are wrongly profiled as being suspects?" said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse advocacy group. "What recourse would they have?" [...]

Comment: If the recent history of the war on terror is any indication, the answer is: None.

After initial attempts after the Sept. 11 attacks to starve terrorists of money -- mostly by providing suspects' names to banks so they could block related accounts -- the government's anti-terrorism financing approach expanded to include the more targeted tool of financial tracking, officials, former officials and experts said.

Banks prefer the more focused approach, saying the blacklists and onerous post-Sept. 11 laws and regulations requiring them to conduct tough customer background checks and to report all sorts of suspicious activities are too broad and have done little if anything to detect terrorist funds.

Officials say financial tracking is valuable, but the tough and broad regulations are still necessary because they help banks spot irregularities and ensure they have the tools to conduct sophisticated searches as needed. [...]

Comment: All the police state machinery has been put into place and tested. The only question that remains is when it will be fired up.

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US seeks access to international accounts in hunt for terror money: report
AFP
Sunday April 10, 4:44 PM

The US government is developing a plan that could give it access to hundreds of millions of international bank accounts to hunt terrorist financing, the New York Times reported.

The measure would add to the huge legal arsenal built up by the US authorities since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed government officials, said a Treasury Department working group had drawn up the plan to gain access to logs of international wire transfers into and out of US banks.

Such transfers were used by the September 11 hijackers to wire more than 130,000 dollars and the officials were quoted as saying such transfers could be used again.

Comment: The purported 9-11 ringleader - Mohammed Atta - according to ABC news, was financed by "unnamed sources in Pakistan." According to Agence France Presse and the Times of India, an official Indian intelligence report informs us that the 9-11 attacks were funded by money wired to Mohammed Atta from Pakistan, by Ahmad Umar Sheikh, under orders from Pakistani intelligence chief General Mahmoud Ahmad. The report said:

"The evidence we have supplied to the U.S. is of a much wider range and depth than just one piece of paper linking a rogue general to some misplaced act of terrorism."
[Michel Chossudovsky]

Guess what? General Mahmoud Ahmad was in the U.S. on September 11.

Where was General Mahmoud on the morning of September 11, while Dubya was in Florida reading upside down books?

Why, the good general just happened to be having breakfast with Florida's senator, Bob Graham - our esteemed chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Also present at breakfast was Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. Maleeha Lodhi. There were other members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees present. [...]

Read the rest in Mahmoud Ahmad and The Secret Cult of 9-11.

The plan arises out of a little-noticed provision in an intelligence reform bill passed in December.

The New York Times said the legislation gives US authorities powers to track leads on specific suspects and to analyze broad patterns in terrorist financing and other financial crimes.

The provision authorized the Treasury Department to pursue regulations requiring financial institutions to turn over "certain cross-border electronic transmittals of funds" that may be needed in combating money laundering and terrorist financing, the report said.

Terrorist money has been difficult to identify and seize because many militant operations are conducted on relative shoestring budgets, the New York Times said.

Planning and carrying out the September 11 attacks was believed to have cost Al-Qaeda 400,000-500,000 dollars and the bombing of two US embassies in East Africa in 1998 cost just 10,000 dollars, the report said.

Comment: Yeah, right. Remember this excerpt from Laura Knight-Jadczyk's Comments on the Pentagon Strike?

There are five extremely sophisticated anti-missile batteries in place to protect the Pentagon from an airborne attack. These anti-missile batteries operate automatically. [...]

The Army possesses several very sophisticated radar monitoring systems. the PAVE PAWS system is used to detect and track objects difficult to pick up such as missiles flying at very low altitudes. PAVE PAWS misses NOTHING occurring in North American airspace. "The radar system is capable of detecting and monitoring a great number of targets that would be consistent with a massive SLBM [Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile] attack. The system is capable of rapidly discriminating between vehicle types, calculating their launch and impact points.
[http://www.pavepaws.org/ and http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/track/pavepaws.htm]

Thus, contrary to the Pentagon's claims, the military knew very well that an unidentified vehicle was headed straight for the capital. Yet, the military did not react, and the Pentagon's anti-missile batteries did not function.

Why?

Military aircraft and missiles possess transponders which are much more sophisticated than those of civilian planes. These transponders enable the craft to declare itself to the electronic eyes watching American airspace as either friendly or hostile. An anti-missile battery will not, for example, react to the passage of a "friendly missile," so that, in battlefield conditions, it is ensured that only enemy armaments and vehicles are destroyed.

Thus, it seems that whatever hit the Pentagon MUST have had a military transponder signalling that it was "friendly" - i.e. it would take an American Military craft to penetrate the defenses of the Pentagon - or the anti-missile batteries would have been automatically activated. [...]

Mike Ruppert has written that there were "military exercises" taking place that day suggesting that the automatic systems were temporarily turned off. If that is the case, then it is either the greatest coincidence in history that the same day was the day some crazy terrorists, planning from a cave in Afghanistan decided to attack America, or there is someone in the U.S. government who told them. [...]

"13:13 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.

"And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." [Revelation]

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Flashback: Pinter blasts 'Nazi America' and 'deluded idiot' Blair

Angelique Chrisafis and Imogen Tilden
Wednesday June 11, 2003
The Guardian

The playwright Harold Pinter last night likened George W Bush's administration to Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, saying the US was charging towards world domination while the American public and Britain's "mass-murdering" prime minister sat back and watched.

Pinter, 72, was at the National Theatre in London to read from War, a new collection of his anti-war poetry that had been published in the press in response to events in Iraq.

In conversation on stage with Michael Billington, the Guardian's theatre critic, Pinter said the US government was the most dangerous power that had ever existed.

The American detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where al-Qaida and Taliban suspects were being held, was a concentration camp.

The US population had to accept responsibility for allowing an unelected president to take power and the British were exhausted from protesting and being ignored by Tony Blair, a "deluded idiot" Pinter hoped would resign.

After a big operation for cancer, Pinter returned to public life last year to speak out against American belligerence. He called it a return from a "personal nightmare" to an "infinitely more pervasive public nightmare".

The playwright said: "The US is really beyond reason now. It is beyond our imagining to know what they are going to do next and what they are prepared to do. There is only one comparison: Nazi Germany.

"Nazi Germany wanted total domination of Europe and they nearly did it. The US wants total domination of the world and is about to consolidate that.

"In a policy document, the US has used the term 'full-spectrum domination', that means control of land, sea, air and space, and that is exactly what's intended and what the US wants to fulfil. They are quite blatant about it."

Pinter blamed "millions of totally deluded American people" for not staging a mass revolt.

He said that because of propaganda and control of the media, millions of Americans believed that every word Mr Bush said was "accurate and moral".

The US population could not be let off scot-free for putting the country under the control of an "illegally elected president - in other words, a fake".

He asked: "What objections have there been in the US to Guantanamo Bay? At this very moment there are 700 people chained, padlocked, handcuffed, hooded and treated like animals. It is actually a concentration camp.

"I haven't heard anything about the US population saying: 'We can't do this, we are Americans.' Nobody gives a damn. And nor does Tony Blair." Pinter added: "Blair sees himself as a representative of moral rectitude. He is actually a mass murderer. But we forget that - we are as much victims of delusions as Americans are."

In a British society where people were increasingly encouraged not to use their brains, the only way to protest was by "thought, intelligence and solidarity".

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Up to 300,000 Demonstrate in Baghdad
Juan Cole
Sunday, April 10, 2005

Edmund Sanders reports that the crowds in downtown Baghdad protesting the US troop presence in the country may have been as large as 300,000. If it were even half that, these would be the largest popular demonstrations in Iraq since 1958! To any extent that they show popular sentiment shifting in Shiite areas to Muqtada al-Sadr's position on the American presence, they would indicate that he is winning politically even though the US defeated his militia militarily.

Big demonstrations were also held in Ramadi and in Najaf.

In Baghad, Shaikh Mu'ayyad al-Khazraji, a Sadr aide, said that the demonstrations would continue, to pressure the parliament to demand a US withdrawal.

Al-Hayat reports that Muqtada urged his followers not to bear arms and were not to reply with gunfire if they were shot at by the Americans, saying that God would be responsible for defeating the Occupiers." The demonstrators demanded a swift trial of Saddam Hussein, a timetable for US withdrawal, the release of Iraqis detained by the US, and an end to the marginalization of the opposition. The demonstrators carried effigies of Saddam Hussein, President Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, each labeled "International Terrorist." Ash-Sharq al-Awsat says that the crowds also demanded an end to torture in Iraqi prisons.

Off to the side a small crowd of Iraqi Christians joined in the demonstration, with placards saying, "We support the call of Sayyid Muqtada for national unity."

In a sermon read for him, Muqtada accused the United States of double standards-- allowing Israel to have the bomb but bothering Muslim powers who have a nuclear program.

The demonstration's magnitude appears to have convinced prime minister designate, Ibrahim Jaafari of the Dawa Party, to begin speaking once again of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The United Arab Front in Kirkuk demanded the creation of a militia to protect the Arabs of that city from the Kurdish "security militias" [i.e. the Kurdish-dominated police force in the city]. Shaikh Wasfi al-Asi, the leader of the Front, said that Iraq is an Arab country and an inseparable part of the Arab world, and that it is inappropriate for Jalal Talabani to be president, because he is a Kurd and is trying to evict Arabs from Kirkuk. (Al-Asi is a good representative of the peculiar Iraqi Baath racism that ran wild in the Saddam era).

Comment: Most US mainstream media reports of the recent Iraq demonstrations seriously downplayed the numbers, reporting "thousands" or at most, "tens of thousands". In a further apparent attempt to negate the significance of the protests, CNN, Fox, MSNBC etc. took the opportunity to remind their readers that the protests had centered on Firdos Square in the center of Baghdad where, two years ago, "jubilant Iraqis" tore own a statue of Saddam Hussein. The problem however, is that the event in question was completely staged by a US military "psychological operations" unit, as first reported on alternative news sites and then confirmed by the Los Angeles Times.

"As the Iraqi regime was collapsing on April 9, 2003, Marines converged on Firdos Square in central Baghdad, site of an enormous statue of Saddam Hussein. It was a Marine colonel-- not joyous Iraqi civilians, as was widely assumed from the TV images -- who decided to topple the statue, the Army report said. And it was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking."

While we might be tempted to think that this was simply a case of CNN having been fooled by the US military, the truth is somewhat more disturbing:

CNN 's history of voluntary cooperation with PSYOPS troops is also worth considering. In March 2000, FAIR and international news organizations revealed that CNN had allowed military propaganda specialists from an Army PSYOPS unit to work as interns in the news division of its Atlanta headquarters.

There is little doubt that the editors at CNN and other major mainstream news outlets are fully aware that the toppling of Saddam's statue was nothing more than US government propaganda and cannot therefore be used as evidence of any "joy" on the part of Iraqis at the US invasion of their country. Yet, to this day, these editors happily continue to present the lie as truth to their readers.

The significance and effect of such media bias cannot be overstated.

Such carefully selected lies-presented-as-truth have shaped the American people's belief in the reasons for, and effects of, the Iraq invasion. Of course, the role of the media in spreading disinformation and lies does not stop at US foreign policy but extends to all areas of that which the American people call reality. The end result of such a state of affairs is that the dissonance between that which is actually happening in the world and that which the majority of the people believe is happening reaches such an advanced state that it would not be incorrect to talk of literally two different realities.

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Flashback: Patriotism & Censorship
By Peter Hart and Seth Ackerman
Some journalists are silenced, while others seem happy to silence themselves

War fever in the wake of the September 11 attacks has led to a wave of self-censorship as well as government pressure on the media. With American flags adorning networks' on-screen logos, journalists are feeling rising pressure to exercise "patriotic" news judgment, while even mild criticism of the military, George W. Bush and U.S. foreign policy are coming to seem taboo.

On September 17, Bill Maher, host of ABC’s Politically Incorrect, took issue with Bush's characterization of the hijackers as "cowards," saying that the label could more plausibly be applied to the U.S. military’s long-range cruise missile attacks than to the hijackers' suicide missions. Maher, a hawk on military issues, intended his comment as a criticism of Bill Clinton's emphasis on air power over ground troops, but major advertisers, including Federal Express and Sears, dropped their sponsorship, and several ABC affiliate stations dropped Maher’s show from their lineups (Washington Post, 9/28/01).

Commenting at an official news briefing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called Maher's remark "a terrible thing to say," adding, "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." The White House's transcript of Fleischer's remarks mysteriously omitted the chilling phrase "watch what they say," in what White House officials later called a "transcription error" (New York Times, 9/28/01).

Maher might consider himself lucky to still have a job. A columnist for the Oregon Daily Courier, Dan Guthrie, said he was fired for writing a column (9/15/01) that criticized Bush for "hiding in a Nebraska hole" in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks (Associated Press, 9/26/01). After the column sparked angry letters to the editor, the paper's publisher printed an apology to readers (9/18/01): "Criticism of our chief executive and those around him needs to be responsible and appropriate. Labeling him and the nation's other top leaders as cowards as the United States tries to unite after its bloodiest terrorist attack ever isn't responsible or appropriate." The publisher denied Guthrie was fired for what he wrote, but declined to elaborate.

Similarly, the city editor of the Texas City Sun, Tom Gutting, was fired after writing a column (9/22/01) critical of Bush’s actions the day of the attacks. His column was also the subject of an apology from the paper's publisher (9/21/01), who wrote an accompanying op-ed headlined "Bush's Leadership Has Been Superb" (Editor & Publisher, 9/27/01).

Veteran progressive radio host Peter Werbe found that in the wake of the terrorist attacks, his syndicated show was no longer wanted at KSCO-KOMY-AM in Santa Cruz, Calif. On October 6, station co-owner Michael Zwerling came on the air to criticize Werbe’s program. Days later, Kay Zwerling, Michael’s mother, denounced the show’s political content and criticism of the Bush administration in an on-air editorial, saying "partisanship is out; we are all Americans now." She added that "we cannot afford the luxury of political divisiveness." Apparently accusations that peace marchers are committing "treason" and calls for "nuking Afghanistan" made by right-wing syndicated host Michael Savage, who is aired on the station for six hours daily, do not qualify as divisive (Metro Santa Cruz, 10/24/01).

"Just tell me where"

Other journalists loudly proclaimed their support for the government and military action. CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather was the most conspicuous, declaring on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman (9/17/01): "George Bush is the president. He makes the decisions, and, you know, it's just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he'll make the call." Rather issued a similar call on the show Entertainment Tonight (10/2/01), according to a transcript from the Media Research Center: "If he needs me in uniform, tell me when and where--I'm there."

It should be remembered that Rather is not only a news reader but also the managing editor of CBS Evening News, and his attitude has the potential to influence the work of the reporters who work under him. Both ABC and NBC have dealt with the criticisms of the U.S. food aid program in Afghanistan, airing the views of aid workers in the region who dismissed the food program as an ineffective PR ploy. CBS Evening News did not address the issue.

ABC’s Cokie Roberts also appeared on the Letterman show (10/10/01) to proclaim her deep faith in military spokespeople: "Look, I am, I will just confess to you, a total sucker for the guys who stand up with all the ribbons on and stuff and they say it's true and I'm ready to believe it."

At the dozens of stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, pro-Bush editorial statements were read on the air by station managers. At Sinclair’s WBBF and WNUV in Baltimore, news anchors and other on-air journalists read the statements (Baltimore Sun, 10/4/01).

"Reining in" journalism

Attempts by the U.S. government to exert control over media have been broad. In early October, Secretary of State Colin Powell voiced his concerns about the Al Jazeera television station during a meeting with Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Thani, the emir of Qatar. Powell reportedly told Thani to "rein in" Al Jazeera, which operates out of Qatar and relies on the government for significant funding (Washington Post, 10/9/01). Though the channel is considered by many to be the most independent TV news outlet in the Arab world, Powell and other U.S. officials were reportedly upset by the channel re-airing old interviews with bin Laden and the inclusion of guests that are too critical of the United States on its programs. (In attempting to muzzle Al Jazeera, Powell was mirroring the complaints of Arab nationalists who contend that the channel too often airs the views of Israelis and Western officials.)

Once the air strikes began, Al Jazeera provided the only footage coming out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, documenting the killing and maiming of civilians. The station also aired videotaped statements delivered to it by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda group--which were picked up and replayed by U.S. television networks. In an October 10 conference call with national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, executives from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CNN reportedly acceded to her "suggestion" that any future taped statements from Al Qaeda be "abridged," and any potentially "inflammatory" language removed before broadcast.

Originally, the administration expressed concern about the possibility of Al Qaeda members sending "coded messages" to their followers in the segments--without offering any evidence that such a technique had ever been used, or that censoring U.S. news broadcasts would be an effective means of keeping any messages that did exist from terrorists.

But Rice's main argument to the networks seems to have been that bin Laden's statements should be restricted because of their overt content. NBC News chief Neal Shapiro told the New York Times (10/11/01) that Rice's main point "was that here was a charismatic speaker who could arouse anti-American sentiment getting 20 minutes of air time to spew hatred and urge his followers to kill Americans."

The following day, Fleischer took the administration's campaign further and contacted major newspapers to request that they consider not printing full transcripts of bin Laden's messages. "The request is to report the news to the American people," said Fleischer (New York Times, 10/12/01). "But if you report it in its entirety, that could raise concerns that he's getting his prepackaged, pretaped message out."

To its credit, the New York Times has apparently resisted such requests, even editorializing (10/11/01) that the "White House effort is ill advised." But some media executives seemed to actually appreciate the White House pressure. In an official statement, CNN declared: "In deciding what to air, CNN will consider guidance from appropriate authorities'' (Associated Press, 10/10/01). CNN chief Walter Isaacson added, "After hearing Dr. Rice, we're not going to step on the land mines she was talking about" (New York Times, 10/11/01). "We'll do whatever is our patriotic duty,'' said News Corp executive Rupert Murdoch (Reuters, 10/11/01), who took U.S. citizenship when his Australian passport interfered with his buying American TV stations.

Indeed, when a taped segment from bin Laden spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith aired on Al Jazeera on October 13, U.S. networks handled it much differently than previous statements. Fox News Channel and MSNBC did not air any of the footage, while the other networks opted to show only portions of the tape, or paraphrase the content (Associated Press, 10/31/01).

Dangerously unbiased

Powell was not the only government official who seemed to think that a national emergency gave them license to attempt to interfere with news outlets. On September 21, the federally funded Voice of America radio service temporarily held a news story that featured comments from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar after the State Department complained to Voice of America‘s board of governors (Washington Post, 9/23/01). When the station played the segment anyway, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher (press conference, 9/24/01) criticized Voice of America for "asking the U.S. taxpayer to pay for broadcasting this guy's voice back into Afghanistan." Some media heavyweights shared that view: The New York Times’ William Safire (10/1/01) was clearly upset that the "seat-warmer at the Voice of America could not restrain its news directors from broadcasting the incendiary diatribes of Taliban leaders."

At KOMU-TV in St. Louis, run by faculty and students at the University of Missouri, on-air news personnel were prohibited from wearing anything that might indicate support for a particular cause, including flags or patriotic ribbons. This prompted state Rep. Matt Bartle to send an email to the station’s news director that threatened the KOMU’s state funding: "If this is what you are teaching the next generation of journalists, I question whether the taxpayers of this state will support it" (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, 9/30/01).

It appears that journalistic neutrality is a dangerous message to send these days. When Cablevision’s News 12 station in Long Island, N.Y. adopted a no-flag policy for its on-air personnel, it wasn’t government officials that were upset by the supposed lack of patriotism--it was the station’s advertisers. One station official told the New York Times (10/7/01) that "a number of clients are talking about running their ads somewhere else." In such an environment, it shouldn’t be surprising that news that might portray the military in an unflattering light would also be censored. An Associated Press photo taken aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise showed a bomb with "high jack this fags" scrawled on it, apparently the work of an American soldier. The AP withdrew the photo, instructing news outlets not to run it in their papers (PlanetOut.com, 10/12/01). Mainstream media have shown little interest in reporting on the incident--suggesting that self-censorship is itself a phenomenon that might be too hot to cover.

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US turns away KLM plane with unwanted visitors on board
AFP
Sun Apr 10,10:12 AM ET

THE HAGUE - A Dutch airline KLM plane on a direct flight from Amsterdam to Mexico was forced to turn back after US authorities barred it from entering their airspace because it was carrying two unwanted passengers.

The plane, which had been carrying 287 passengers, had not been scheduled to land in the United States but needed to fly through US airspace to pass from Canada to Mexico.

The aircraft was already nearing Canada when the pilot was told he would not be allowed to enter US airspace, KLM spokesman Bart Koster told AFP on Sunday.

The identity of the two suspect passengers is not known and the KLM would not comment on why the US authorities barred them from the US airspace, referring all question back to the Americans.

"KLM always checks its passenger lists to see if any names match up with people wanted by the authorities or to see if THEY are on a KLM blacklist of aggressive passengers and we allow these two to fly with us," Koster said.

The suspected passengers were not arrested on their return to the Netherlands because Dutch authorities saw no reason to detain them, the ANP news agency reported.

In the past KLM has refused to fly passengers to the United States and Washington has made it clear that certain passengers would not be allowed but never this late into a flight, according to Koster.

"This is the first time something like this happened," according to the spokesman. The KLM is trying to contact the US authorities to try to figure out where the mismatch in information occurred, he added.

After the plane returned to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport Saturday the remaining 285 passengers were put on another plane and flown to Mexico without any problems.

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And the Verdict on Justice Kennedy Is: Guilty
By Dana Milbank
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page A03

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is a fairly accomplished jurist, but he might want to get himself a good lawyer -- and perhaps a few more bodyguards.

Conservative leaders meeting in Washington yesterday for a discussion of "Remedies to Judicial Tyranny" decided that Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee, should be impeached, or worse.

Phyllis Schlafly, doyenne of American conservatism, said Kennedy's opinion forbidding capital punishment for juveniles "is a good ground of impeachment." To cheers and applause from those gathered at a downtown Marriott for a conference on "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith," Schlafly said that Kennedy had not met the "good behavior" requirement for office and that "Congress ought to talk about impeachment."

Next, Michael P. Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said Kennedy "should be the poster boy for impeachment" for citing international norms in his opinions. "If our congressmen and senators do not have the courage to impeach and remove from office Justice Kennedy, they ought to be impeached as well."

Not to be outdone, lawyer-author Edwin Vieira told the gathering that Kennedy should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law."

Ominously, Vieira continued by saying his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Joseph Stalin. "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem,' " Vieira said.

The full Stalin quote, for those who don't recognize it, is "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem." Presumably, Vieira had in mind something less extreme than Stalin did and was not actually advocating violence. But then, these are scary times for the judiciary. An anti-judge furor may help confirm President Bush's judicial nominees, but it also has the potential to turn ugly.

A judge in Atlanta and the husband and mother of a judge in Chicago were murdered in recent weeks. After federal courts spurned a request from Congress to revisit the Terri Schiavo case, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said that "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) mused about how a perception that judges are making political decisions could lead people to "engage in violence."

"The people who have been speaking out on this, like Tom DeLay and Senator Cornyn, need to be backed up," Schlafly said to applause yesterday. One worker at the event wore a sticker declaring "Hooray for DeLay."

The conference was organized during the height of the Schiavo controversy by a new group, the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration. This was no collection of fringe characters. The two-day program listed two House members; aides to two senators; representatives from the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America; conservative activists Alan Keyes and Morton C. Blackwell; the lawyer for Terri Schiavo's parents; Alabama's "Ten Commandments" judge, Roy Moore; and DeLay, who canceled to attend the pope's funeral.

The Schlafly session's moderator, Richard Lessner of the American Conservative Union, opened the discussion by decrying a "radical secularist relativist judiciary." It turned more harsh from there.

Schlafly called for passage of a quartet of bills in Congress that would remove courts' power to review religious displays, the Pledge of Allegiance, same-sex marriage and the Boy Scouts. Her speech brought a subtle change in the argument against the courts from emphasizing "activist" judges -- it was, after all, inaction by federal judges that doomed Schiavo -- to "supremacist" judges. "The Constitution is not what the Supreme Court says it is," Schlafly asserted.

Former representative William Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) followed Schlafly, saying the country's "principal problem" is not Iraq or the federal budget but whether "we as a people acknowledge that God exists."

Farris then told the crowd he is "sick and tired of having to lobby people I helped get elected." A better-educated citizenry, he said, would know that "Medicare is a bad idea" and that "Social Security is a horrible idea when run by the government." Farris said he would block judicial power by abolishing the concept of binding judicial precedents, by allowing Congress to vacate court decisions, and by impeaching judges such as Kennedy, who seems to have replaced Justice David H. Souter as the target of conservative ire. "If about 40 of them get impeached, suddenly a lot of these guys would be retiring," he said.

Vieira, a constitutional lawyer who wrote "How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary," escalated the charges, saying a Politburo of "five people on the Supreme Court" has a "revolutionary agenda" rooted in foreign law and situational ethics. Vieira, his eyeglasses strapped to his head with black elastic, decried the "primordial illogic" of the courts.

Invoking Stalin, Vieira delivered the "no man, no problem" line twice for emphasis. "This is not a structural problem we have; this is a problem of personnel," he said. "We are in this mess because we have the wrong people as judges."

A court spokeswoman declined to comment.

Comment: In our comments on the media frenzy of Terri Schiavo, we pointed out that Bush would use the court rulings as a trampoline to gut the separate of the judicial branch. Here we see the opening volley in just such an attempt.

According to these Bush supporters, refusing the death penalty for juveniles is an impeachable offense, lying to the American people about Saddam's connections to al-Qaeda is not.

Citing international norms in judgments is an impeachable offense, lying about weapons of mass destruction is not.

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High School To Pay Student Informants For Tips On Campus Crime
WFTV.com
11:22 am EDT April 11, 2005

ROME, Ga. -- A high school is looking for a few good snitches. Using revenue from its candy and soda sales, Model High School plans to pay up to $100 for information about thefts and drug or gun possession on campus.

"It's not that we feel there are any problems here," said Principal Glenn White. "It's a proactive move for getting information that will help deter any sort of illegal activity."

Comment: Gee, that's reassuring - "It's not that we need paid informants to keep crime down, it's just that we're doing it anyway because it fits nicely with the Bush administration's push towards a police state."

Under the new policy, a student would receive $10 for information about a theft on campus, $25 or $50 for information about drug possession, and $100 for information about gun possession or other serious felonies.

Informants will not receive the reward if they are involved in the crime, White said.

At nearby Rome High School, there is no similar program because students there have a rapport with officials and are comfortable providing information, said Superintendent Gayland Cooper.

"We feel the reward is the kids knowing they have a safe school," Cooper said.

The idea for the program came from Kell High School in Marietta, an Atlanta suburb. There, student tips earlier this year led to the arrest of a classmate who had brought a handgun to school.

No Model High students have received the reward yet, but some questioned the logic behind it. Jaime Parris, a senior, said that most students already would tell faculty about anything that threatened student safety.

"But if it's not going to hurt other people, I don't think many people are going to tell on their friends," she said.

Comment: There's nothing like preparing little Johnny and Jane for life in the real world, where good, patriotic Americans turn in their "terrorist" neighbors at the drop of a hat.

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Inside scarred minds

On his first visit to the Gaza Strip, Daniel Day-Lewis meets the Palestinian families living in the heart of the danger zone — and the psychologists who are counselling them

March 20, 2005
Authors in the Frontline: Daniel Day-Lewis

Mossa'ab, the interpreter, leads the way, carrying a white Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) flag. Its psychology team, myself and the photographer Tom Craig are in full view of an Israeli command post occupying the top floors of a large mill. It is draped in camouflage netting, as is the house close by. It is to this house that we are heading, across 200 yards of no man's land; the last house left standing in an area once teeming with life.

Civilians have been the main victims of the violence inflicted by both sides in the Middle East conflict. In the Gaza Strip the Israeli army reacts to stone-throwing with bullets. It responds to the suicide bombs and attacks of Palestinian militants by bulldozing houses and olive groves in the search for the perpetrators, to punish their families, and to set up buffer zones to protect Israeli settlements. It bars access to villages, and multiplies checkpoints, cutting Gaza's population off from the outside world. MSF's psychologists are trying to help Palestinian families cope with the stress of living within these confines; visiting them, treating severe trauma and listening to their stories. Their visits are the only sign sometimes that they have not been abandoned.

Israel's tanks and armour-plated bulldozers can come with no warning, often at night. The noise alone, to a people who have been forced to suffer these violations year after year, is enough to freeze the soul. Israeli snipers position themselves on rooftops. Householders are ordered to leave; they haven't even the time to collect pots and pans, papers and clothes before the bulldozers crush the unprotected buildings like dinosaurs trampling on eggs — sometimes first mashing one into another, then covering the remains with a scoop of earth. Those caught in the incursion zone will be fired on. Even those cowering inside their houses may be shot at or shelled through walls, windows and roofs. The white flag carried by humanitarian workers gives little protection; we'll have warning shots fired at us twice before the week is out.

Sometimes a family will not leave an area that is being cleared, believing if they do leave they will lose everything. It is a huge risk to remain. Sometimes a house is left standing, singled out for occupation by Israeli troops. The family is forced to remain as protection for the soldiers. Last year an average of 120 houses were demolished each month, leaving 1,207 homeless every month. In the past four years 28,483 Gazans have been forcibly evicted; over half of Gaza's usable land, mainly comprising citrus-fruit orchards, olive groves and strawberry beds, has been destroyed. Last year, 658 Palestinians were killed in the violence in Gaza, and dozens of Israelis. This ploughing under, house by house, orchard by orchard, reduces community to wasteland, strewn and embedded with a stunted crop of broken glass and nails, books, abandoned possessions. As we weave our way towards the home of Abu Saguer and his family — one of several families we will visit today — we are treading on shattered histories and aspirations.

Abu Saguer's own house is still standing, but its top floor and roof are occupied by Israeli soldiers. His granddaughter Mervat is with us, a sweet, shy seven-year-old with red metal-rimmed glasses, her hair in two neat braids held by flowery bands. She wears bright-red trousers and a denim jacket. Last April her mother heard an Israeli Jeep pull up briefly at the military-access road in front of their house. Some projectile was fired and when Mervat reappeared — she had been playing outside — she was crying and her face was covered in blood. They washed her. Her right eye was crushed. A month later in Gaza an artificial eye was fitted. It was very uncomfortable, so a special recommendation was needed from the Palestinian Ministry of Health to finance a trip to Egypt for one that fitted properly. Mervat needs this eye changed every six months, so the ministry must negotiate with Israel each time for permission to cross the border. Fifty cars are permitted to cross each day; each must carry seven people.

Abu Saguer has five sons and four daughters — "You'll go broke with more than that," he says. He lives near the big checkpoint of Abu Houli in southern Gaza. He wants the photographer, Tom Craig, to take his picture and put it on every wall in England, Germany and Russia. He is 59. At 12 he went out to work, and at 16 he began to build the house he had dreamt of, "slowly, slowly" as a home and as a gathering place for his extended family. He had grown up in a house made of mud in Khan Yunis, which let the water in whenever it rained, and all his pride, hope and generosity of spirit had invested itself in this ambition. He had worked in Israel, like so many here, before the borders were closed to all men aged between 16 and 35.

For over 20 years, Abu Saguer had his own business, selling and transporting bamboo furniture. During the second Gulf war all his merchandise was stolen. After that he relied on his truck for income. He had cultivated 300 square metres of olive trees, pomegranates, palms, guavas and lemons in the fields around his home. After the start of the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) his crops were destroyed by the Israeli army — for "security". A road that services the Israeli settlements of Gush Katif had been built, and during our visit the traffic passes freely backwards and forwards, along the edge of the barren land where his orchards once flourished.

On October 15, 2000, Abu was at home with his wife when Israeli settlers emerged on a shooting spree. He and his family fled to Khan Yunis. After four days he returned. He was hungry. There was no bread, no flour. He killed four pigeons and prepared a fire on which to grill them. The soldiers arrived suddenly, about 20 of them, and entered the house. He followed them upstairs. "Where are you going?" he asked. One smashed his head into a door, breaking his nose. They kicked him down the stairs and out of his house. They kicked half his teeth out and left him with permanent damage to his spine. "If you open your mouth we'll shoot you," they said. They left, returning in a bigger group an hour later, to occupy the top of his house, sealing the stairway with a metal door and razor wire. The family has lived in constant fear ever since. The soldiers urinated and defecated into empty Coke bottles and sandbags, hurling them into his courtyard. They menaced his children with their weapons. After two years of this an officer asked: "Why are you still here?" "It's my house," he replied.

For four years, Abu Saguer has been afraid to go out, afraid to leave his wife and children alone. He is a prisoner in his own home, just as the Palestinians are prisoners within their own borders. The facade of self-government is an absurdity. The Strip, with its 1.48m Palestinians, is a vast internment camp, the borders of which shrink as more and more demolition takes place, and within which the population rises faster than anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile, about 7,000 Israeli settlers live in oases of privileged segregation. This is a state of apartheid. It's taken me less than a week to lose impartiality. In doing so, I may as well be throwing stones at tanks. For as MSF's president, Jean-Hervé Bradol, has said, "The invitation to join one side or the other is accompanied by an obligation to collude with criminal forms of violence."

The late Lieutenant-General Rafael Eitan, the former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), once likened the Palestinian people to "drugged cockroaches scurrying in a bottle". In 1980 he told his officers: "We have to do everything to make them so miserable they will leave." He opposed all attempts to afford them autonomy in the occupied territories. Twenty- five years on, it seems to me that his attitude and policy have been applied with great gusto. Every movement here in any of the so-called sensitive areas, which account for a large, ever-increasing proportion of the Strip (borders, settlements, checkpoints), is surveyed and reacted to by a system of watchtowers.

These sinister structures cast the shadows of malign authority across the land. On our third day, as we stood at the tattered edge of the refugee camp at Rafah, the forbidding borderland between Gaza and Egypt, bullets bit into the sand a yard and a half from where we stood. It was in this place — was it from the same watchtower? — that Iman el-Hams, a defenceless 13-year-old schoolgirl, had been shot just weeks before. She ran and tried to hide from the pitiless death that came for her. I felt her presence; the sky vibrating with the shallow, fluttering breath of her final terror.

I read this transcript before I left home; the cold facts ran through me like a virus. It is a radio communications exchange by the Israel Defense Forces, Gaza, October 2004. Four days later, crossing into Gaza, I'm still shivering: what the hell is this place we're going to?

Soldier on guard: "We have identified someone on two legs [code for human] 100 metres from the outpost.

Soldier in lookout: "A girl about 10." (By now, soldiers in the outpost are shooting at the girl.)

Soldier in lookout: "She is behind the trench, half a metre away, scared to death. The hits were right next to her, a centimetre away."

Captain R's signalman: "We shot at her, yes, she is apparently hit."

Captain R: "Roger, affirmative. She has just fallen. I and a few other soldiers are moving forward to confirm the kill."

Soldier at lookout: "Hold her down, hold her down. There's no need to kill her."

Captain R (later): "...We carried out the shooting and killed her... I confirmed the kill... [later]... Commanding officer here, anyone moving in the area, even a three-year-old kid, should be killed, over."

A military inquiry decided that the captain had "not acted unethically". He still faces criminal charges. Two soldiers who swore they saw him deliberately shoot her in the head, empty his gun's entire magazine into her inert body, now say they couldn't see if he deliberately aimed or not; another is sticking to his damning testimony.

Every weighty bag of flour for Abu Saguer's household must be broken up and lugged across the 200 yards of wasteland. Everything must be carried. We are smoking apple-flavoured shisha in the courtyard after a lunch his wife made of bread, tomatoes, olive oil, olives and yoghurt, all from the small plot left to him. "Take some puffs so you can write," he says. He speaks with great urgency and my pen lags behind. On November 7, during Ramadan's month of fasting, a three-tiered perimeter of razor wire was laid, encircling his house. This forced him and his family to use the military access road, walking his children past tanks to get to school. It's a much longer and more dangerous route. After a week of this he was shot at from the watchtower. Abu Saguer gathered his wife and children, then they sat down in the road. All afternoon they sat.

"I didn't care if they crushed us there and then. I wanted a resolution," he said. Jeeps passed, nothing happened. After dusk they went in to break their fast. The next day a senior officer approached them in the road.

"What's the problem? Are you on strike? What is it, are you upset?"

"Yes."

"A lot?"

"A lot, a lot, a lot."

"Are you upset with us?"

"I'm upset with the whole lot of you."

"Why?"

"You're forcing my wife and children to walk in front of tanks and bulldozers — I want a donkey and cart."

"Big donkey or small donkey?"

"Big, to pull a cart."

"Impossible." (Abu Saguer, his eyes twinkling, smoke streaming from his nose and mouth, says: "If they'd said yes, I'd have bought a very big donkey to bite his nose, and donkeys that bite are very inexpensive.")

"Give me a gate, then."

"We don't have gates."

"I'll make one."

He makes a gate from two pieces of wood and a wire grill. They ask him to buy a padlock. He buys one. A soldier supervises as he cuts through the bottom tiers of razor wire (they won't allow the top one to be cut) and he installs his little gate. "If the gate is left open and anything happens, we will shoot you."

Sue Mitchell, the MSF psychologist, asks: "What's it like for you to tell this story?"

"I release what I have in my chest," he says. "I can't sleep. I woke this night at 1am. I thought it was sunrise. I woke the kids and told them to go to school. I look around and see that my life has been ruined. I'm like a dry branch in the desert."

Psychologists have been visiting the family since shortly after the occupation of their house began. Each time, they have to apply for access to Israeli authorities; it's usually granted three times out of four. Sue, a 41-year-old Australian, has a wonderfully gentle presence. She quietly steers her patients to and fro between the pain of their memories and a recognition and acknowledgment of their dignity, courage, generosity and good humour in the face of this desperation. She encourages them to voice their fears, tell their stories and, particularly with the children, act out their experiences.

Abu Saguer is a man of great affability. Because of his resilience, his wit, his tenderness with the children, it's easy to think of his survival in heroic terms, but often he has periods of deep depression, disorientation and forgetfulness. "I'm not scared any more, I can't explain it, I just don't care. There's one God, I'll die only one time."

The soldiers have decamped for the moment, but the family is never sure when they will come back. Part of their home has been lost to them. We walk through those rooms that the troops occupy. The curtains chosen with care by Abu Saguer's wife long ago billow inwards, in unsettling contrast to the camouflage netting in front of the window. His gate is visible from here. I imagine him approaching across the broken ground, struggling with a bag of flour, stooping to unlock and open that little gate.

As we leave, Sue calls her base. Each visit must be registered with and approved by the District Civil Liaison (DCL). We hear that a doctor has been shot dead while treating a wounded boy at a crossroads in Rafah that we passed yesterday.

Entering Gaza for the first time at the Erez checkpoint, we saw some Israeli kids in army uniform — we'd seen them on the way from Jerusalem, hitchhiking or slouching at bus stops, dishevelled, their uniforms accessorised with shades and coloured scarves. Weapons were slung across their backs. They looked like they should have been on the way to school. One girl at Erez wearing eyeliner and lipstick, friendly with the implied complicity of "We're on the same side," said: "I'm laughing all the time — I'm crazy." Most of them appeared indifferent, almost unseeing. We walked through the concrete tunnel separating these two worlds. In the eyes of their bosses, we are a menace because we're witnesses. All humanitarian workers are witnesses. The UN has been on phase-four alert, the highest level before pulling out completely.

They're a little tired of being shot at. We travel south from Erez toward Beit Lahiya through the area "sterilised" during "Days of Penitence". That was Israel's 17-day military offensive in northern Gaza that started on September 29, after a rocket fired by the Islamic militant group Hamas killed two toddlers in the Israeli town of Sederot, a kilometre away on the other side of the border. These home-made rockets have a five-mile range, so Israel sent in 2,000 troops and 200 tanks and armoured bulldozers to set up a 61/2-mile buffer zone and "clear out" suspected militants. Days of Penitence killed 107 Palestinians (at least 20 of them children), left nearly 700 homeless, and caused over $3m in property damage.

Towards the end of it, even Israeli military commanders were urging Ariel Sharon to stop. He wouldn't listen. So there is not a building left standing that hasn't been acned by shells and bullets, many of them with gaping mouths ripped out by the tanks. A vast area has been depopulated and ground into the rubble-strewn desert we find wherever we go. A Bedouin encampment has settled, impossibly, on one of these wastelands. Half a dozen smug-faced camels and a white donkey stand behind the fence waiting for Christ knows what; the air is heavy with their scent. The families have constructed hovels of sheet plastic, branches and jagged pieces of rusting corrugated iron. They look like the last scavenging survivors of doomsday. As we head southwest towards Gaza City, the Mediterranean Sea appears like a mirage, shocking in its beauty: Gaza's western border.

We arrive at the MSF headquarters in Gaza City for the daily logistical meeting. Hiba, a French-Algerian about to complete her mission, has perhaps the most stressful job of all: to daily organise and monitor the movements of each of the six teams working here. She has to seek "co-ordinations", which, in the veiled dialect of occupation, means permission to enter and leave any sensitive area. This she achieves, if possible, through an Israeli DCL area commander in the department of co-ordination. We'd met one of them — just a kid like the others — at Erez. "Oh, Hiba, she takes it all too personally," he'd said. As if the whole thing were a game, with no hard feelings, between consenting adults. Even with this "co-ordination", an MSF team may arrive in the area only to be refused access by the local Israeli officer in charge (or, in some cases, to be shot at). No reason need be given. "Security," they're sometimes told.

Hiba is constantly assessing, reassessing, adapting. At any moment the heavily fortified Israeli checkpoint at Abu Houli, in the centre of the Strip, can be closed, effectively dividing Gaza into two parts. It may remain closed for four, six, 10 hours. It might be a security alert or an officer's whim. Yasser, Sue's Bedouin driver, once waited for three days to cross. We were held up there. A Palestinian officer, identifiable by the size of his belly, had overridden his leaner subordinates and waved us to the front of the queue. A babble of aggressive commands was disgorged from the IDF bunker through new burglar-proof loudspeakers. Recently a gang of young boys had made a human pyramid and stolen the originals. "Wah, wah, wah," the boxes yell at you from within their razor-wire cocoons.

Hiba rests only when the teams return safely to their bases in Gaza City, or in the south where another MSF apartment allows visits there to continue if the checkpoint is closed.

At the southern MSF base in Abassan I'm awoken on our third day at 4.30am by the call to prayer, then again at 7am by the surprising sound of children in a school playground. In any place, in any language, the sound is unmistakable. Gleeful and contentious. When you're in bed and you don't have to go to school yourself it's delicious. Are they taught here, among other things, that they have no future? The windows on this side of the apartment overlook a playground of pressed dirt with a black-and-white-striped goal of tubular metal at each end. The school, conspicuously unmarked by bullet or shellfire, is a long two-storey building, built in an L-shape along two sides of the pitch. It is painted cream and pistachio and resembles a motel in Arizona. (Later, in the refugee camp at Rafah, we'll drive past one riddled with bullet holes, and meet a grinning 10-year-old who proudly shows us the scars, front and back, where the bullet passed through his neck one day at school.)

After waking, I move to the back of the flat, to the kitchen. At the far side of a hand-tilled field warming itself in the early sunshine stand two pristine houses, white and cream, like miniature palaces. The field is hemmed at one end by a row of olive trees, and at the other by a large cactus.

A middle-aged man and woman in traditional clothes move the drills in unison. The distance between them maintained, gestures identical, they advance, bent at the waist, planting one tiny onion at a time plucked from a metal bowl. If an occupying force were ever in need of an image to advertise the benevolence of their authority, this would be it. I wonder what awaits them. I try but fail to imagine the roar of a diesel engine, the filth of its exhaust, as a bulldozer turns this idyll to dust.

Later, sipping cardamom-flavoured coffee, I look down on a fiercely contested football game. Half the kids have bare feet. There's a teacher on each side, in shirt and tie. One tries a volley which, to shrieks of delight, sails over the wall behind the goal. Two little boys watch, arms around each other. They turn and hug for a long time, then wander off still arm in arm. Sue Mitchell arrives. The co-ordination we needed has come through. After the warning shots fired at us from the watchtower at Tuffah yesterday, we'd thought maybe the Israelis would refuse it.


Yasmine is a grave, self-possessed 11-year-old. She emerged from her coma after a nine-hour operation to remove nails embedded in her skull and brain. An exploding pin mortar had been fired into her house. Her father was hit in the stomach and can no longer work. I've held this type of nail in my hand. They are black, about 1½ in long, sharpened at one end, the tiny metal fins at the other end presumably designed to make them spin and cause deeper penetration. We sifted through a pile of shrapnel at the hospital, all of it removed from victims. These jagged, twisted fragments, some the size of an iPod, were not intended to wound, but to eviscerate and dismember: to obliterate their victims. Yasmine lives a short drive away from Abu Saguer, in a ramshackle enclave with a courtyard shaded by fig trees. Across a sterilised zone lies her cousins' house, but it remains inaccessible (the cousins, including the most withdrawn child Sue Mitchell has ever met, are also her patients).

On the other side of a coil of razor wire, laid within feet of Yasmine's house, runs a sunken lane gouged out of the sand by tanks. When Sue first met her, Yasmine was terrorised, screaming and throwing up during the night. Such symptoms are common. In areas such as this, leaving your house day or night means risking death; staying there is no more secure. Nowhere is safe.

Under Sue's guidance, Yasmine and countless other cousins have prepared a show which, after many last-minute whispered reminders and much giggling, they perform for us. Yasmine is undoubtedly the force behind this. Her power of self-expression is immense. As she recounts the story of her wounding, her voice rides out of her in wave upon wave, full of pleading and admonition. Her crescent eyes burn within a tight mask of suffering; her hands reach out to us palms up, in supplication. At the end the tension in her fierce, lovely face resolves into the shy smile of a performer re-inhabiting her frailer self when the possession has lifted. Then there is a play, with sober, stylised choreography and a chorus of hand jives. A silent little girl whose expression is deadpan, unchanging, play-acts being shot by soldiers during a football game.

This four-year-old has witnessed much of the horror that has befallen the family. She lies obediently on the ground, splayed out and rigid. The mourners, curved in a semicircle around her, pretend to weep and wail, but they're all laughing behind their hands; we laugh too. Then they sing: "Children of the world, they laugh and smile, they go to sleep with music, they wake with music, we sleep with shooting and we wake with shooting. Despite them we will play, despite them we will play, despite them we will laugh, despite them we will sing songs of love."

Yasmine doesn't join the others as they cluster around us to say goodbye. Looking up, we see her leaning on the parapet of the roof, smiling down on us. Silent. Her dark face is golden in the rich, syrupy light of dusk.

Sue Mitchell is one of three psychologists here for MSF. Each will work with about 50 families during their six-month stay. The short-term therapy they offer is invaluable, but in some way it seems like a battlefield dressing with no possibility of evacuation for the injured. These stories are unexceptional. Every room in every humble, makeshift, bullet-ridden dwelling, in each of the labyrinthine streets of the camps, contains a story such as this — of loss and injury and terror. Of humiliation and despair. What separates those of Abu Saguer and Yasmine is that we carry their stories out with us. The others you'll never hear about.

HOW CHILDREN LEARN TO SURVIVE ON THE FRONT LINE

Violence and bloodshed are the backdrop to the lives of the children of Gaza. That they cling to hope and their dignity leaves psychologists such as Sue Mitchell deeply moved. With one group of young patients, she has produced a practical guide to help them and children in other war-torn areas. The children of the Abu Hassan family — 10 of them, aged from five to 13 — were caught in Israel's Days of Penitence offensive. "They'd been shot at, attacked, some of their houses had been demolished, they'd seen people blown up, and had been confined in the smallest room of their house for two weeks by Israeli soldiers," says Mitchell. Faces they drew in the sand showed inverted semicircle mouths and large tears.

"I was feeling my heart small and I was unable to talk. I thought I was going to die," said one. Mitchell was inspired by how they coped with the trauma, and wrote down what they told her. The result is a booklet in the children's own words, How to Manage the Effects of a Military Attack: Tips for Children. "Invent games that make you laugh and help you breathe," says one child. "Look at each other's faces. If you see someone is distressed, talk to them," says another. And there are dreams for the future: "Eat olives — the olive tree is the tree of peace."

"They're delighted by the book," says Mitchell, "but they also underplay their strengths. They say, 'We're not so special; all Palestinian kids know how to do this.'"

Comment: Children writing a self-help book for other Palestinian children on how to deal with military attacks. These are the "animals" the Israelis are trying to render so miserable on their homeland that they leave.

Who are the animals?

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Israeli occupation forces raid Nablus
Monday 11 April 2005, 14:22 Makka Time, 11:22 GMT

Israeli occupation troops have made an incursion into the centre of Nablus in northern West Bank.

Comment: "Incursion". Such a sanitised word for butchery and brutality.

Early on Monday, the soldiers, who arrived in about 20 military vehicles backed by a helicopter, surrounded several buildings and called on their residents to get out, apparently looking for wanted Palestinian activists, witnesses said.

The troops have begun to demolish a house, a Palestinian official told Aljazeera. The troops also told reporters to leave the area.

Violent clashes erupted in central Nablus city, causing injuries, Aljazeera's correspondent in Palestine, Hasan al-Titi, reported.

Al-Titi said the Israeli military operation was still under way, particularly in the northern mountainous area in Baikar Street, adding that forces had imposed a curfew on Huwara, a town in the south of Nablus.

Looking for activists

Israeli forces said earlier they were seeking "wanted activists" but had not yet apprehended anyone.

Israeli forces were using police sniffer dogs to search through adjacent buildings while two Israeli Apache aircraft were seen hovering over the city, the correspondent added.

The raid led to a fierce clash in central Nablus between stone-throwing Palestinian youths and Israeli forces, injuring tens of Palestinians. Some suffered injuries due to tear gas while others were hit by rubber bullets, he added.

A military spokeswoman confirmed that the army had moved into Nablus "for a routine operation".

Aljazeera reported the Israeli forces had arrested at least five members of the Fatah-affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as well as activists of al-Awda Brigades.

One of them is Firas al-Tanbur, a member of al-Awda Brigades in Nablus, who is one of Israel's most wanted Palestinian resistance activists.

Settlers shelled

The raid came a few hours after Palestinian resistance groups fired dozens of mortar shells at Israeli settlers and troop positions in the Gaza Strip.

Resistance groups said the mortar fire was in response to the killing of three Palestinian youths by Israeli soldiers in the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Saturday.

Military sources said on Sunday that 25 mortar shells had been fired at Jewish settlements, causing damage to three houses but no injuries.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Ahmad Abu al-Rish Brigades and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine all have confirmed they had shelled settlements in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the Israeli "crime".

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Sharon: Tensions over pullout plan resemble 'eve of civil war'
10:23 AM EDT Apr 11
JOSEF FEDERMAN

JERUSALEM (AP) - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview aired Monday that there is so much tension in Israel over his Gaza pullout plan that the atmosphere "looks like the eve of the civil war."

Sharon said in a television interview that "all my life I was defending life of Jews. Now for the first time steps I'm taking to protect me from Jews."

"The tension here, the atmosphere here looks like the eve of the civil war," said Sharon, who will meet President George W. Bush on Monday at his Crawford, Texas, ranch.

Sharon arrived in Waco, Texas, under heavy security and had dinner with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at his hotel Sunday night.

Sharon said that, despite the internal tensions, he was optimistic that peace with the Palestinians could be reached.

"Yasser Arafat, first was a military man, and during his rule there were no chances whatsoever to reach peace," Sharon told the interviewer. "As a matter of fact, I believe at the current time, maybe for the first time, there is a possibility to try and solve the problem."

Comment: Sharon himself is a military man. The continued strikes against the Palestinians is evidence enough that "during his rule" there will be "no chances whatsoever to reach peace".

Israeli military officials said Monday that Jewish settlers in four West Bank settlements will be disarmed about two weeks before they are to be removed from their homes this summer, reflecting growing concern that settler resistance to a West Bank pullback will be intense.

Settlers, however, said they would not give up their weapons.

Israel plans to dismantle all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank in July and August, removing about 9,000 Israelis from their homes. While the Gaza operation will be much larger, Israeli officials have grown increasingly worried about violence in the West Bank.

Gaza is surrounded by a barrier and access can be easily controlled, while West Bank settlements can be reached from many directions. The West Bank also holds special significance for religious Jews, raising the likelihood that Jewish ultranationalists might pour into the settlements to resist the evacuations.

Military officials, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said troops will collect all military-issue weapons from residents of the four settlements about two weeks before the pullout. Military commanders expect more settler resistance in the West Bank than in Gaza, the officials said.

Gaza settlers also will be disarmed, although the timing of the weapons collection remains unclear, they added.

The Gaza settlers have led a vocal yearlong campaign against the withdrawal plan.

But since Sharon won final parliamentary approval for the pullout last month, many Gaza settlers have shown signs of acceptance, opening negotiations with the government over compensation and their resettlement.

The West Bank withdrawal, meanwhile, is shaping up to be a more complicated operation than the Gaza evacuation. "We are worried more about settlers coming from the outside, not necessarily the residents," said a military official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Yediot Ahronot daily quoted a senior military officer as saying "violent cells" have already been established in two of the West Bank settlements, Sa-Nur and Homesh. The four settlements have a total population of about 500 people.

The military official said the army is preparing a number of actions to ensure calm, including additional weapons collections, pre-emptive arrests and restraining orders barring extremists from entering the settlements.

Chaim Weiss, the secretary of Homesh, said there are no plans to confront soldiers during evacuation.

However, he said settlers would refuse to give up their weapons, which he said are needed for protection against Palestinians. During more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, Palestinian militants have repeatedly attacked settlements and opened fire on Israeli motorists in the West Bank.

"We need to defend ourselves and our families," Weiss said. "I think it will be a tragedy to take our weapons."

Weiss also disputed the report of extremists setting up operations in Homesh, though he said it was possible that outsiders could try to cause trouble. "If there will be violence, it will be from outsiders who want to create a provocation," he said.

The army said it will provide adequate security for settlers. Military officials have long planned for the possibility of Palestinian attacks on soldiers and settlers during the withdrawal.

A two-month-old ceasefire has become strained in recent days, following the killing of three Palestinian youths by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip and retaliatory shelling by militants.

Sharon said Palestinian mortar and rocket fire "is a flagrant violation of the understandings" on a ceasefire he reached with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at a February summit.

"This will be a central issue to be raised in my talks with President Bush," he said.

Comment: Yes, the issue of Palestinian responses to Israeli killings will be raised. How dare they attempt to protect themselves!

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Bush, Sharon to discuss Gaza pullout
Monday 11 April 2005, 11:05 Makka Time, 8:05 GMT

US President George Bush will host Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his Texas ranch in a reaffirmation of US support for the proposed Gaza pullout.

US concerns - which Bush has said he plans to raise with Sharon - about a project still in its preliminary stages to expand a major Jewish settlement in the West Bank, could inject a rare note of discord into talks between the two allies.

But US and Israeli officials played down any notion Bush would on Monday try to sour Sharon's first taste of homestead hospitality at the presidential spread in Crawford, a visit capping a year of political fighting in Israel for the Gaza plan's survival.

An outbreak of violence in the Gaza Strip over the weekend could provide the backdrop for Sharon to try to focus the summit on his bedrock demand, echoed by Washington, that Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas should do more to rein in resistance fighters.

"They are pointing a gun to [Abbas'] head," a senior Israeli
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said about
Palestinian resistance groups that fired dozens of mortar bombs at Jewish settlements in Gaza over the weekend.

Escalation in violence

The violence was the most serious in the area since Abbas and Sharon declared a ceasefire at a summit in Sharm al-Shaikh, Egypt, in February. The attacks followed the killing of three unarmed Palestinian youths by Israeli troops in southern Gaza.

"The firing [of the mortars] was a flagrant violation of the understanding achieved at Sharm al-Shaikh and it will be a central issue to be raised in my talks with President Bush," an aide quoted Sharon as saying on the flight to Texas on Sunday.

"Abbas is weak. He needs assistance, but you can only help someone who helps himself," added a senior Israeli official.

Promoting his plan to remove all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank, Sharon often cited Bush's assurances during his previous US trip last April that Israel would not be expected to give up some large West Bank settlement blocs in future peace deals.

But Sharon appeared to go a step too far for Washington by pledging last week to press ahead with construction of 3500 homes for Israelis in a narrow corridor between the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim and Jerusalem.

Heavy security

Sharon's hotel in Waco, about 40km from Bush's ranch, was surrounded by a tight cordon of security with large trucks blocking intersections.

Late on Sunday, he met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the hotel to prepare for the morning meeting with the president.

Israeli officials said they expected Bush to reaffirm his strong backing for the Gaza withdrawal set for July, the first removal of Jewish settlements from occupied land Palestinians want for a state.

Bush is also expected to tell Sharon there can be no expansion of Jewish settlements under the US-backed Middle East road map peace plan.

It calls for a freeze of Israeli "settlement activity" as part of mutual steps with the Palestinians, leading to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

Israeli officials rushed to assure the US there would be no new work at Maale Adumim for at least two years.

"It must stop," Vice-Premier Shimon Peres told Israel's Army Radio, referring to the settlement plan. "Until the end of the Gaza process, I think we should not be making more problems."

'Important visit'

"With no doubt, Sharon's visit to the US is very important," chief Palestinian megotiator Saib Uraiqat told Aljazeera. Sharon would want to tell Bush that Abbas did not do what was required of him, which was halting the violence.

"In addition, Sharon will tell Bush that Maale Adumim settlement should be joined to Israel," Uraiqat said, adding that the Israeli government would consider a withdrawal from Gaza and northern West Bank only, and nothing would happen after that for years.

"This will lead to an endless crisis," he said.

"Sharon intends to cancel the issues of Jerusalem, the refugees and the borders. This will put us in a new transitional stage by considering a state with temporary borders," Uraiqat said.

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‘Sick and tired of Holocaust’
By Ronen Bodoni
Ynetnews

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark announced Sunday she is suspending fellow Labor MP John Tamihere for saying he is “sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed.”

Clark said in statement that party leaders decided Tamihere was to go on “extended leave” and would not participate in upcoming party activities.

She added the statements made by Tamihere were “deeply offensive” and “utterly unacceptable.”

According to a New Zealand Herald report, in response to a question by Investigate Magazine on how the country’s society can focus on the wrongdoings of the past, Tamihere said, "The Wiesenthal Institute is the same. I’m sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed, not because I’m not revolted by it - I am - or I’m not violated by it - I am - but because I already know that.”

"How many times do I have to be told and made to feel guilty?" he said.

The statement evoked harsh responses from Jewish organizations.

Tamihere initially denied remarks

David Zwartz, president of the New Zealand Jewish Council, said Mr. Tamihere’s comment was sickening for New Zealand Jews who suffered in the Holocaust and whose families were gassed.

"It is deeply shocking for all other Jews," he said. “Jews have no desire to make Mr. Tamihere or anyone feel guilty, we only want to have the historic truth known and understood so discrimination and oppression leading to genocide won’t happen again."

Comment: Ordinary Jews may have no desire to make anyone feel guilty, but Jewish "leaders" certainly do. Groups like the ADL and AIPAC, not to mention Israeli politicians like Sharon, have all used and abused the Jewish Holocaust for their own selfish purposes. If all HONEST Jewish lobby groups simply want to "have the historic truth known and understood", then they have achieved their goal. The entire world is painfully aware that 6 millions Jews were killed during WWII. However, if such groups also desire that "discrimination and oppression leading to genocide won’t happen again", then they would be well advised to lobby against the Israeli government and its use of the Jewish Holocaust to quash any opposition to the GENOCIDE that it is currently perpetrating against the Palestinian people.

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Order OKs Bird Flu Quarantine in U.S.
Saturday April 2, 2005
UK Guardian

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush signed an executive order Friday authorizing the government to impose a quarantine to deal with any outbreak of a particularly lethal variation of influenza now found in Southeast Asia.

The order is intended to deal with a type of influenza commonly referred to as bird flu. Since January 2004, an estimated 69 people, primarily in Vietnam, have contracted the disease. But Dr. Keiji Fukuda, a flu expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said he suspects there are more cases.

The fatality rate among those reported to have the disease is about 70 percent.

Health officials around the world are trying to monitor the virus closely because some flu pandemics are believed to have originated with birds.

Bush's order was described as a standby precaution, adding pandemic influenza to the government's list of communicable diseases for which a quarantine is authorized. It gives the government legal authority to detain or isolate a passenger arriving in the United States to prevent an infection from spreading.

The authority would be used only if the passenger posed a threat to public health and refused to cooperate with a voluntary request, the Health and Human Services Department said.

The quarantine list was amended in 2003 to include SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed nearly 800 people in 2003. Other diseases on the list are cholera, diptheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

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Essays marked by computer program
Saturday, 9 April, 2005
By Justin Parkinson

Computers are being used to mark American university students' essays in a project which could radically alter the teaching role of academics.

Qualrus, a program developed at the University of Missouri, offers instant feedback on even complex subjects.

It picks up word patterns, from which it can tell whether students' arguments are sound, and gives the essay a score.

Its developer, Professor Edward Brent, says Qualrus will save staff hundreds of hours of marking time.

'Compares candidates'

He told the BBC News website: "The program uses several different intelligence strategies.

"It compares the information with that offered by all previous candidates and the information entered previously by the course tutor."

Students taking Prof Brent's sociology course submit their draft essays online and receive detailed feedback within a couple of seconds.

It gives a numerical score based on the weight instructors place on different parts of the assignment. [...]

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Blizzard Disrupts Travel Across Colorado
By ROBERT WELLER, Associated Press Writer
Sun Apr 10, 6:53 PM ET

DENVER - Hundreds of travelers were stranded at the Denver airport and along highways Sunday as a blizzard blew across eastern Colorado with wet, heavy snow.

Seven to 10 inches of snow was forecast in Denver and up to 30 inches was possible in the foothills west of Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder, the National Weather Service said. [...]

Fat, moisture-laden snowflakes were blown sideways by wind gusting to 30 mph. Xcel Energy reported that 11,000 customers were without power in the heavily populated Front Range region. [...]

Whiteout conditions shut down a 16-mile stretch of heavily traveled Interstate 25 between Denver and Colorado Springs, 60 miles to the south. I-70 was closed in both directions in the Denver area. The state Department of Transportation said crews reported whiteout conditions on Interstate 76 near the Nebraska state line. [...]

Three state-run prisons in Denver were also closed to visitors by weather for the first time ever, said Alison Morgan, spokeswoman for the state corrections department. [...]

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Earthquake jolts sea near Indonesia
www.chinaview.cn 2005-04-11 11:10:54

HONG KONG, April 11 (Xinhuanet) -- An intense earthquake measuring6.0 on the Richter scale jolted the sea near Sumatra of Indonesia at 1:30 a.m. (Hong Kong time) Monday.

According to the Hong Kong Observatory, the epicenter was initially determined to be 1.6 south latitude and 99.7 east longitude, about 100 kilometers southwest of Padang.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The quake was followed by a series of aftershocks. An earlier quake hit Sunday near Siberut Island, 109 kilometers southwest of Painan, a neighboring town to Padang, causing some panic among local residents.

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Tokyo rocked by earthquake
11/04/2005
News24.com

Tokyo - A major earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale rattled Tokyo early Monday as commuters headed to work, reviving fears of the dreaded "Big One" predicted to hit Japan in the future.

The quake was the biggest since a tremor of equal magnitude that hit the Kanto region centring on Tokyo in June 2000, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

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Minor earthquake hits southern Philippine city
www.chinaview.cn 2005-04-11 16:22:24

MANILA, April 11 (Xinhuanet) -- A 4-magnitude earthquake shook Butuan City in Mindanao, southern Philippines, and its surroundingareas at 04:00 a.m. local time Monday, said the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS).

PHIVOLCS said the earthquake's epicenter was located 40 kilometers west of Butuan City and was tectonic in origin. The quake started at the eastern Mindanao segment, it said.

No casualty or damage was reported in the earthquake.

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Hailstones "as big as eggs" kill 18 in Sichuan
www.chinaview.cn 2005-04-11 08:31:14

BEIJING, April 11 -- A hailstorm in Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality has left 18 dead, one person missing and 25 injured, the People's Daily reported yesterday.

The biggest hailstorm, which fell in Chongqing, reached 13 centimetres in diameter, according to local reports.

Chongqing's eight districts also experienced gales and 140 millimetres of rainfall in last Friday's storm.

According to the municipal Office of Disaster and Social Relief, about 458,000 residents in 80 counties and towns in Chongqing were hit by bad weather, leaving five dead and 25 injured.

It is estimated that 140 million yuan (US$17 million) of damage was caused.

Qianjiang District in Chongqing was the worst affected, with hailstones destroying more than 27,800 houses and local crops. In this district alone, there was damage worth 35 million yuan (US$4.2 million).

Many cities in Sichuan were also affected by strong winds and heavy rainfall. Some cities, such as Leshan, Dazhou and Yibin, were also hit by hailstorms.

Thirteen people died in the province.

Ye Sheng, deputy director of Gaoxian County's Party committee in Yibin, said he witnessed a hailstorm that lasted for about one-and-a-half hours on Friday.

He said some hailstones were as big as eggs, and even small ones were the size of peas. "Many houses were pierced by the hail. It is the most serious hailstorm for 20 years in the county," he was quoted by People's Daily as saying.

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Gamma ray burst may have wiped out sea life
JOHN VON RADOWITZ
The Scotsman
Mon 11 Apr 2005

A MIGHTY blast of radiation from an exploding star may have wiped out much of life in the sea 450 million years ago, scientists claim.

New research suggests that a gamma ray burst could have been responsible for the Ordovican mass extinction in which 60 per cent of all marine invertebrates died.

Gamma ray bursts are immensely powerful surges of radiation. Many are thought to have been caused by the explosions of stars over 15 times more massive than the Sun.

A burst creates two beams of gamma ray energy that race off across space in opposite directions.

The Ordovican mass extinction can be explained by a gamma ray burst within 6,000 light years of Earth, say scientists from the US space agency NASA and the University of Kansas.

Dr Adrian Melott, from the university, said: "A gamma ray burst originating within 6,000 light years from Earth would have a devastating effect on life. We don’t know exactly when one came, but we’re rather sure it did come - and left its mark."

Such a burst would strip the Earth of its protective ozone layer, allowing deadly ultraviolet radiation to pour down from the Sun.

Computer models showed that up to half the ozone layer could be destroyed within weeks. Five years later, at least 10 per cent would still be missing.

"What’s surprising is that just a ten-second-burst can cause years of devastating ozone damage," said Dr Melott. [...]

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Look out for giant triangles in space
09 April 2005
New Scientist

THE search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) could be taking the wrong approach. Instead of listening for alien radio broadcasts, a better strategy may be to look for giant structures placed in orbit around nearby stars by alien civilisations.

"Artificial structures may be the best way for an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation to signal its presence to an emerging technology like ours," says Luc Arnold of the Observatory of Haute-Provence in France. And he believes that the generation of space-based telescopes now being designed will be able to spot them.

Arnold has studied the capabilities of space-based telescopes such as the European Space Agency's forthcoming Corot telescope and NASA's Kepler. These instruments will look for the telltale dimming of a star's light when a planet passes in front of it. They could also identify an artificial object the size of a planet, such as a lightweight solar sail, says Arnold. His work will be published in The Astrophysical Journal (www.arxiv.org/astro-ph/0503580).

Arnold has determined the characteristic transit signal that differently shaped objects would produce, including a Jupiter-sized equilateral triangle and a louvre - parallel slats with gaps between them. Corot and Kepler will be capable of distinguishing these objects from most planets, though they could still be confused with a ringed planet like Saturn, he says.

To ensure the signal is unambiguous, an alien civilisation would have to launch a number of objects into orbit around a star. As an example, Arnold imagines 11 objects orbiting a star in groups of one, two, three and five - the first prime numbers. The time interval between each group could also encode prime numbers if the objects were powered rather than orbiting freely. He thinks any civilisation that can engineer giant structures in space would probably not find this a problem.

Arnold believes that this type of signalling is at least as effective as broadcasting a message using a high-powered laser pulse or a radio signal, which SETI is searching for.

The best place to begin looking for artificial structures could be around dwarf stars. Their small size means they can be dimmed by the transit of a relatively small object, making them the best bet for an advanced civilisation wishing to announce itself.
“Space telescopes could identify an artificial object the size of a planet, such as a lightweight solar sail”

But SETI researchers aren't changing tack just yet. "Arnold's proposal falls within the category of SETT - the search for extraterrestrial technology," says Paul Schuch, executive director of The SETI League in New Jersey. "SETT is entirely complementary to SETI, which is narrowly defined as the search for electromagnetic emissions from other technological societies. The SETI League actively encourages and enthusiastically endorses such research," he adds.

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